Kerala farmers chop down trees in desperate bid to deter elephants, safeguard crops

With their farms under threat and fearing for their safety, many residents are said to be abandoning their rural lives and seeking work opportunities in nearby towns.

ByDileep V Kumar

Published Apr 27, 2024 | 9:00 AM Updated Apr 27, 2024 | 9:00 AM

Kerala High Court human-animal conflict elephant

Nestled amidst the verdant embrace of dense forests on all sides, Vadakkanadu in Wayanad is a tranquil village. But here, a distinct episode of human-wild animal conflict has unfolded.

The residents here find themselves ensnared in a battle for survival against nature’s gentle giants – the elephants. Elephants from the encroaching forest have become a constant threat, drawn to the easily accessible fruits hanging heavy on jackfruit and coconut trees.

Desperate to protect their remaining crops as well as their own lives, farmers are resorting to a heartbreaking solution – chopping down these very trees.

According to locals, elephants raid their farms at night, targeting both ripe and unripe jackfruits. Living in constant fear, they believe cutting down these trees will deter the elephants and safeguard other crops like coffee.

The village is also facing another challenge – a population exodus. With their farms under threat and fearing for their safety, many residents are said to be abandoning their rural lives and seeking work opportunities in nearby towns, especially Sultan Bathery.

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Elephant raids

Talking to South First, Baby CJ, a resident of Vadakkanadu said, “They come at night, like silent giants. We hear the thumps and crashes, and in the morning, our jackfruit trees are lying broken, the fruits gone.”

According to Baby, though jackfruit and coconut trees are not only a source of income for farmers but also vital components of the local ecosystem, they have to face it.

Jackfruit trees being axed at a farm in Vadakkanadu in Wayanad

“The tranquillity of our village gets often shattered by the ominous presence of the pachyderm invaders at night whose voracious appetite for jackfruits and coconuts, leaves a trail of destruction in their wake,” said Baby.

Baby said he had so far axed 60 to 70 jackfruit trees as well as many coconut trees in his orchard. He said there are many in the village who are resorting to this extreme step.

“For us, this jackfruit is a source of income. We sell it to nearby towns or fruit sellers from Mysore in Karnataka. But we are now shattered by the recurring incursions of elephants, who traverse the forested corridors in search of sustenance,” added Baby.

Vadakkanadu in Noolpuzha Grama Panchayath also shares its boundary with the Mysore Forest division.

Paul Mathews, another farmer in Noolpuzha, said that in the morning, deer, monkeys, wild boar, and others roam around the area, and in the night, it is tiger and elephants.

“We are caught in a never-ending cycle of fear and uncertainty. Every night, we brace ourselves for the inevitable onslaught, knowing that our livelihoods as well as our lives hang in the balance,” said Paul.

According to him, though the Forest Department personnel arrived at the spot upon receiving information about wild animal incursion, their interventions have so far turned out to be ineffective.

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Loss of livelihoods, exodus

According to Baby, Vadakkanadu was once known for its bountiful paddy cultivation. But those lush fields that once teemed with life, now lie barren as farmers fear to carry out cultivation due to wild animals.

“The fields used to be a sea of green. Now, there’s nothing left. The men and women are moving to nearby towns in search of other jobs like construction work and others,” he said.

At the same time, forest personnel said that the desperate act – replacing the once-vibrant orchards with barren patches, however, comes at a steep ecological cost.

“Jackfruit and coconut trees are not just a source of income; they are the lifeblood of the ecosystem. Their removal disrupts the food chain, exposes the soil to erosion, and disrupts the habitat of other animals dependent on their fruits,” said a forest official.

(Edited by Shauqueen Mizaj)